Grave rockers! Musicians honor legendary pianist in Green-Wood Cemetery

Grave rockers! Musicians honor legendary pianist in Green-Wood Cemetery
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

An influential pianist will be a part of one last concert: 142 years after his death.

Fans of 19th-century pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk — a man considered a veritable rock star before rock ’n’ roll even existed — will honor the revered musician with a piano concert and a new monument at his grave in Green-Wood Cemetery.

“Gottschalk was the first American composer who had an international following,” said Green-Wood historian Jeff Richman. “He was similar to Michael Jackson in his day, down to the white gloves that he would take off during concerts and the screaming fans.”

Gottschalk lived from 1829 until 1869, when he died on tour in Brazil. It’s fabled that he was playing a piece called “Morte!” when he collapsed on stage in Rio de Janairo. He died a few weeks later and after his body spent more than a year in a Brazil tomb, his family shipped his remains back to Brooklyn and buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, where they marked his grave with a majestic five-foot tall marble statue.

About hundred years after his death, vandals smashed the monument — but it wasn’t until 2010 that cemetery officials discovered records indicating the monument had vanished, and a plan to replace it was set in motion.

“For years, we didn’t know what had happened to it, and then we found some old Polaroid pictures showing that it had been smashed,” said Richman. “So we raised money for a new monument and two years ago, we appointed a judging panel and proposed sculptures.”

“The Angel of Music” concert will include not only renditions of Gottschalk’s piano compositions, but also talks on the impact of his music and fame.

Pianist John Davis, an expert in early American piano music, will perform Gottschalk’s music at the cemetery. He touts Gottschalk songs such as “Bamboula,” which he claims are the first known pieces influenced by African-American culture.

“This is the roots music that influenced rhythm and blues,” said Davis. “He’s a staggering figure.”

“Angel of Music” at Green-Wood Cemetery [500 25th St. on Fifth Avenue, (718) 210–3080, www.green-wood.com]. Oct. 13, 1 pm. Free.